Peace Corps Videos

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Friday Night in Tonga

On the first Friday of every month, the Australian High Commission in Nuku'alofa hosts a reception called "Sundowners" for the volunteers who serve in Tonga. This includes the US Peace Corps volunteers, the Japanese volunteers and of course the Australian volunteers along with some Australian and New Zealand residents who work here in Tonga or who may be here on a visit. It's a great chance for us to all get to know each other and for those of us who are in the Peace Corps to see each other. We had a good crowd this Friday and the Aussies even extended the reception an extra hour because everyone was having such a great time. It's a cash bar with beer and wine selling for TOP$3.00 and liquor for TOP$5.00. That's about US$1.50 and US$2.50 so it's a great deal since most of the volunteers have tight budgets. They also have a BBQ.

It is interesting to talk with the volunteers from the different countries and to hear about how their organizations are structured and about their training. Without a doubt, Peace Corps provides the most cultural and language training and the longest training schedule. The Japanese get language training but they attend intensive daylong classes for a much shorter period of time. The Aussies actually get paid a salary and they rent their own homes whereas the Peace Corps volunteers here are provided housing by the organization for which they work. Both Japan and Australia provide grant money for projects in addition to the volunteer labor. New Zealand provides just grant money but that money can be used to hire people as needed depending on the project. The United States doesn't hand out grant money here but instead makes it focus more grassroots through Peace Corps. Our mission is to help the Tongans develop skills on their own.

However, here is where it gets interesting. As a United States Peace Corps volunteer, I can apply, or help an organization apply, for grants from Australia or New Zealand. And those grants often get approved. It helps to remember that the number one sources of income in Tonga are grants and remittances from overseas. These come not just from countries and aid organizations, but from Tongans who live abroad who send money back to help their families.

I don't know the history of the "Sundowners" reception but it's a great idea and this is the second one I attended. However, it will also probably be my last. I am moving to Vava'u at the end of the month to start my permanent job there. I'm actually excited about the move and am eager to get settled in my new home. It will also be great to see my fellow Vava'u volunteers again.

***Other News***

Friday was the second anniversary of the death of Tessa Horan, a Peace Corps volunteer in Tonga who was killed in a shark attack in Vava'u. Here in Tongatapu, we all observed a moment of silence for her. Most of the volunteers who trained and served with Tessa have concluded their service now but a tribute to her remains prominently posted in the Peace Corps office.

One of the married couples from my training group is now on medical leave and both are out of the country. We hope they will be back. We are now down to 29 members of our original training group of 33 in country. One is still on medical leave and the other was medically separated.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a story on how fat people should visit Tonga. It describes Tonga as "one of the fattest places on planet Earth, where 90.8 percent of the people are overweight."

***Notes***

If you are shipping anything to me, letters or packages, you should start using my new address immediately because if you send something today, it probably won't arrive until after I move to Vava'u. Here's my new address:

Steve Hunsicker, PCV
U.S. Peace Corps
P.O. Box 136
Neiafu, Vava'u
Kingdom of Tonga
South Pacific

My phone number will remain the same.

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